Lions fantasy question: What impact will RB Smith have in 2009?

Lions' burning fantasy question:What sort of impact will Kevin Smith make in 2009?

The 2008 Detroit Lions will forever be remembered as the first NFL team to finish 0-16. But despite their lack of success in the standings, the team did field one of the league's top fantasy wideouts in Calvin Johnson and a running back with some real upside in Kevin Smith.

Lions' top 5 fantasy players

  1. Calvin Johnson
  1. Kevin Smith
  1. Maurice Morris
  1. Daunte Culpepper

Sleeper: Pettigrew

While Johnson's value for 2009 is evident after a season with 78 receptions, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns, Smith's draft stock is still a point of contention. He opened his rookie season as the starter, lost his job to veteran Rudi Johnson after four games and then regained the top spot on the depth chart for the final eight weeks.

Smith was especially effective in his final three starts, putting up a combined 291 rushing yards with three touchdowns. That sort of late-season success has fantasy owners excited about Smith's prospects for the 2009 season. After the addition of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, the running back's value rose even further.

Linehan used backfield committees during his time with the Vikings and Dolphins, but he did make Steven Jackson his featured runner while he was the head coach in St. Louis. In fact, Jackson had the best statistical season of his career (90 receptions, 2,334 yards, 16 total touchdowns) under Linehan's watch. That bodes well for Smith, who should see the bulk of the workload on offense.

Fantasy leaguers also shouldn't be overly concerned about the addition of Maurice Morris. The veteran back was added as a reserve and complement for Smith, a role he is used to from his time behind Shaun Alexander with the Seahawks. Morris will be a viable late-round handcuff in some larger leagues for owners who draft Smith, but a true backfield committee shouldn't be expected in Motown.

Another reason to like Smith is that Linehan will continue to use a zone-blocking scheme in the ground game. The Central Florida product become well-acclimated with the system down the stretch, averaging 4 yards per carry in the final eight games despite playing behind one of the league's weaker offensive lines.

Smith is also a very good receiver out of the backfield, so he'll be a dual threat in the offense and for fantasy owners. That makes him an attractive option in standard and PPR formats. If the Lions decide to start No. 1 overall selection Matthew Stafford at any point during the season -- a likely scenario if the team doesn't win with Daunte Culpepper under center -- Smith would no doubt become a very nice safety net for the rookie quarterback.

With backfield committees growing in popularity around the league, the fact that Smith is almost guaranteed to see the bulk of the carries in Detroit adds to his value. If the offensive line can improve and Smith avoids injuries, he'll have the potential to catch 40-plus passes, rush for 1,000-plus yards and score between 6-8 touchdowns.

Numbers like that will make Smith a high-end No. 2 fantasy back and well worth an early to middle-round selection in drafts.

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